Shakespeare Sonnet 136: "If thy soul check thee that I come so near"

Updated on January 26, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 136

In sonnets 135 and 136, the speaker became intoxicated with punning his pen name, "Will." This section of the sonnet sequence seems to suggest that the speaker has nicknamed his penis, "Will." Thus there are at least three wills involved with these sonnets: William Shakespeare, the writer's pseudonym, the will or desire to write or in the "Dark Lady" section to commit adultery, and the instrument through by the speaker would commit the adultery.

The tongue-in-cheek cattiness with which the speaker has glommed onto the term, "Will," seems to suggest that his playfulness has gotten the better of him. He becomes willing to say outrageous things, that even though clever, still would render him a scurrilous cad. Nevertheless, the drama must proceed, and thus it does.

Sonnet 136

If thy soul check thee that I come so near
Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,
And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there;
Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.
Will will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.
In things of great receipt with ease we prove
Among a number one is reckon’d none:
Then in the number let me pass untold,
Though in thy stores’ account I one must be;
For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lov’st me,—for my name is Will.

Reading of Sonnet 136

Commentary

First Quatrain: He is Her Will

If thy soul check thee that I come so near
Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,
And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there;
Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.

Addressing the voluptuous mistress again, the speaker admonishes her that if her conscience has any qualms about his desire for her, she should tell that unthinking conscience that he is her "Will." He is her desire for him, and his name is Will. Because he deems to be her possession, he concludes that her conscience will understand that he is permitted to be "admitted there," or in her body.

It is "for love" that he becomes a suitor in order to "fulfil" the desires of the lady—her lust, and his own lustful desires. He is, of course, rationalizing his lust again, but this time focusing more squarely on her own lust than his. He is somewhat an innocent who is merely willing to accompany the lady on her journey to lust fulfillment, he playfully suggests.

Second Quatrain: Will and Desire

Will will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.
In things of great receipt with ease we prove
Among a number one is reckon’d none:

The speaker then predicts that he, or "Will," is going to "fulfil the treasure of [her] love," or simply satisfy her desires. Not only satisfy, but "fill it full with wills," referring her to the sperm he is capable of leaving inside her vaginal cavity, after having completed his act, which he calls, "my will one."

The speaker’s penis may be only one, but his sperm contains multitudes. The male penchant for braggadocio has overtaken this speaker in sonnets 135 and 136. His overpowering lust has rendered him a satyric fop. Then he philosophizes that it is always easy to accomplish things for which we think we will receive much pleasure.

Third Quatrain: A Token of Lust

Then in the number let me pass untold,
Though in thy stores’ account I one must be;
For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:

The speaker then concludes that since he has made much sense of his explanation, she should go ahead and allow him to join all the others she has tempted and tasted, even though he will be counted as only one. She should allow him one more bit of wise counsel: even if she will not desire to keep him in her company, she could at least retain one token of him, "a something sweet to [her]."

The Couplet: The Will to Pun

Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lov’st me,—for my name is Will.

The token of sweetness, the speaker hopes, will simply be his name: "Make but my name thy love, and love that still, / And then thou lov’st me,—for my name is Will." And if his name were James or Edward, the last remark would remain unremarkable in its literalness. But the speaker he gone out of his way to pun the term, "will," and associate it with his name, "Will," driving home the fact that when he utters that term, he is referring to lust, whether his own or hers.

A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare."

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Erroneously "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy."

Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
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      Linda Sue Grimes 5 weeks ago from Spring Hill, TN

      Wow, that's great, Louise! I have one of those huge tomes of the plays and the sonnets that my mom bought me when I was in my teens. Of course, for practical purposes, I usually rely on the copies one can find on the Net. Still I cherish that book! There is something about real books that remains important for readers and writers.

      Always great to hear from you, Louise! Have a blessed day.

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      Louise Powles 5 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

      I've got a book on Shakespeare's sonnets which I got cheap in a bookshop. I'm glad I got it because after reading your articles I can re-read them. =)

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